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'Ambedkar collaborated with the British to undermine Gandhiji'

All the facts which have been recounted above were well known fifty years ago. With the passing of the generation that fought for Independence, with the total abandonment of looking up the record, most of all with the rise of casteist politics, they have been erased from public awareness. And that erasure has led to the predictable result: schizophrenia.

To start with, those trading in Ambedkar's name and their apologists have sought to downplay the struggle for Independence: the freedom it brought is not "real", they insist. Exactly as that other group did which teamed up with the British at that crucial hour, 1942 -- the Communists. Indeed, as we shall see in the concluding part of the book, to justify Ambedkar's conduct his followers insist that British Rule was better.

Next, they have sought to exaggerate the hardship that Ambedkar had to put up with, to almost rub out the fact, for instance, that at every step -- for instance in his education -- he received fulsome help from persons belonging to the higher castes; by exaggerating the hardships the apologists seek to explain away Ambedkar's collaborating with the British, his hankering for office: these hardships were the sort that are commonplace in India -- one has only to recall the circumstances in which Swami Vivekananda matured, one has only to recall the starvation which stared him in the face, the calumny and humiliations he had to fight back; but in the case of one and each of our leaders the hardships became the crucible which steeled their resolve to rid our country of British rule; it is only in Ambedkar's case that his followers and apologists think that those hardships justify his collaborating with the British against the national movement.

And, of course, these persons have made a practice of denouncing and calumnising Mahatma Gandhi: Gandhiji was the great leader, even more so he was the great symbol of that struggle for Freedom; as Ambedkar collaborated with the British to undermine him, as for 25 years he heaped on the Mahatma calumnies which the British found so valuable, his apologists abuse and denigrate and belittle the Mahatma. In doing this they work out their own poisons -- poisons which, as we shall see, are the inescapable legacy of leaders who have not cast out the thorn of hatred before they come to wield influence.

Today the abuse he hurled at Gandhiji provides the precedent: the apologist's case, as Kanshi Ram said recently while explaining the venom his associate Mayawati had spewed at the Mahatma, is, "We are followers of Babasaheb, we only keep repeating what he used to say." They are at the same time serving their convenience: they have made Ambedkar's style, so to say, as also the facility with which he allied with those who were out to keep the country subjugated, the rationalisation for their own politics.

But the facts lurk in the closet. Lest they spill out and tarnish the icon they need for their politics, lest their politics be shown up for what it is -- a trade in the name of the dispossessed -- these followers of Ambedkar enforce their brand of history through verbal terrorism, and actual assault.

And intimidation works. Editors and others conclude, "Better leave bad enough alone."

Excerpted from Worshipping False Gods by Arun Shourie, ASA Publishers, 1997, Rs 450, with the author's permission. Those interested in obtaining a copy of the book can contact the distributor at Bilblia Impex Pvt Ltd, 2/18, Ansari Road, Daryaganj, New Delhi 110001or